We’re increasingly being invited to talk to business audiences about the perils and pleasures of the export business – no doubt because of the pressures in the UK economic climate at the moment. We make the case that if we can export something – whether this be ideas, experiences, knowledge, products or services – then anyone can. In doing that, we found 8 questions we have kept on asking ourselves about why we started in the first place, and why we continue with it. They are:
1. Why do you want to do it? There has to be a point to you looking beyond your local shores; i.e. not just a bottom line but at least one or two ‘top lines’ which will affect your business, whether this be by improving the quality of your product, service or idea or improving your customer base.
2. Who are your partners? Because you will need partners, lots of them, in lots of different guises. You can’t do this stuff alone and if you can get support from your local LEP, UKTI, British Council or other national institutions then so much the better.
3. Who’s in the room right now? Sometimes (often) you don’t need to travel 1,000 miles to find an export partner. They may be sat right next to you, blissfully unaware of each others presence. Ask people on your own doorstep first, you’ll be astounded as to who they will introduce you to.
4. What are you selling? Products? Services? Knowledge? Access? Ideas? It doesn’t matter whether it’s one or all of these: but you have to be selling something that some-one elsewhere wants. Obvious really but sometimes an export drive can be seduced by the thrill of flights, cheap beer and balmy evening temperatures. As Milo Mindbender in Catch 22 infamously remarked, “There will always be trade.”
5. How do you deal with difference? Because you will be dealing with a ton of difference; not just food clothes and customs, but how people talk with you, their expectations of you, their business manners and table manners. If you think that your homeland can teach those people over there a thing or two about how to behave in business, then export may not be the right thing for you.
6. What language do you want to learn? You will need to learn another language – not just the phonetics, grammar and niceties of the spoken and written word- but the languages of money, of relationships, of success, of failure.
7. How will the cash flow? Once you’re talking turkey about selling turkeys to Turkey, then that’s the time to get the cash flow agreement in place. This is not easy but requires a dedication to duty sometimes beyond what is reasonable. But it matters immensely.
8. Are you running a sprint or a marathon? Are you in it for a quick fast buck or to build long term relationships? Both have their places and only you will know what’s right for your business; but just remember the nasty infections that lurk around the strangest corners. Cast your mind back to your school or university days if need be.
And in the end, the final question to ask is, Am I enjoying this? Because if not – you’re best staying put at home.